In an earlier post, I went on in great length about where I could and couldn’t live, and why (hint: if you think your medium-sized city is attractive to me, think again). For those of you who are terminally time-strapped or just lazy, I’ll give you the Cliff Notes version: Big, big cities (think ten million or more) anywhere or tiny, tiny villages in some civilized piece of Europe.
I don’t need to know too much about big cities, because I’ve been to a whole bunch of them and lived in a few. They are, essentially, all alike across continents and cultures, and, if you have the means, all can be enjoyed.
But villages… the last time I lived in anything resembling a village, I was a young child. And even that was more a pastoral suburb than a real village. I can’t visit a village in Argentina because they are different from the ones I like, and whenever I’m in Europe, I tend to spend all my time in Art museums or lake Como, so I don’t get to check out real villages.
So I did what I always do in these cases: I bought a book. And I’m so glad I bought it that I’m going to tell you all about it.
The book is called The Most Beautiful Villages of England by James Bentley and with photographs by Hugh Palmer, and it does just what it says on the tin. It’s a visual tour of some of the prettiest little collections of houses you’ll ever see.
Are they the most beautiful in England? I really don’t know. I’m certain the authors thought so, but I’m equally certain that, somewhere in the Costwolds, the inhabitants of some picturesque village get together once a year to protest the snub of not being included by pushing pins into voodoo dolls of the estimable Messrs Bentley and Palmer. You can’t please everyone.
But you can please the reader, and this book is very good at that. It’s a warm sensation knowing that, if I want to enjoy looking at pictures of English villages, I don’t have to do so on a screen – this is probably EXACTLY the kind of book that is saving dead-tree publishing. It’s not possible to enjoy it the same way electronically, no matter how wired to your PC you might be.
Apart from the sheer visual beauty, you get a good walkthrough of the history of the featured villages, which are often chilling. Why? Because the pretty, picturesque parts of these places were generally built to house people who “belonged” to the land. The real country swells lived in the big house on the hill, the one with lawns tended by seven hundred gardeners costing the earl a grand total of three pounds, two shillings a year.
Now, of course, they are just beautiful places, and it’s better that way.
England is probably the best place for tiny villages – although both France and Italy will get their due consideration if I can ever write a novel that spends the better part of a year at number one on the NYT bestseller list and simply move away from the faster-paced life I currently “enjoy” – right after I get tired of Tahiti, of course. I spent hours poring over this book trying to chose which village would produce the best writing if I had to walk its streets and look at its scenery every day.
And that, of course, is the crux of it all. I know many writers in rural areas want to hit it big and move to New York. I spend plenty of time in New York every year, and yes, it’s a wonderful place (my recommendation to writers who make it big is to buy the Park-view apartment from Devil’s Advocate), but having lived my entire life in a place just as big and bustling means that my own ideal place to wrestle with the follow up to whatever novel made me famous – and all the pressure that comes with that – would be a leafy back garden, preferably with a stream running through it somewhere in England. I could happily spend a summer writing there. This book has given me a couple of places to look into when that happens.
In winter, of course, look for me in Tahiti.
Gustavo Bondoni is an Argentine novelist. He is probably best known as the author of Siege.